December 30, 2015

Last Minute New Year's Eve Party Ideas!

Another year is nearly over and it's time to celebrate! New Year's Eve parties are fun, but whether you're living it up with a hundred of your closest friends or snuggling with your sweetie on the couch, you definitely don't want it to be stressful.

That's why I'm sharing some fun & simple New Year's Eve party ideas! So you waited til the last big deal! You can still make New Year's special and memorable. Check out my suggestions and incorporate them into your celebration.

1) Pucker UP! - A Delicious Cocktail for New Year's Eve

You'll need: 

1 lemon, cut into slices
Limoncello (lemon-flavored liqueur)
Fresh lemon juice
1 (750-milliliter) bottle brut Champagne, chilled

To make this tasty drink, add a spoonful of the lemon liqueur to a glass. Stir in a spoonful of lemon juice. Top with champagne and garnish with a lemon slice.

It's a little tart, hence the name, but the strike of midnight on New Year's Eve is also a time for kissing, so get prepared to pucker up! Enjoy!

2) Black-eyed Pea Hummus - 

Black-eyed peas have long been thought to bring good luck when eaten on New Year's Day. Get a head start with this tasty adaptation of Blackberry Farm's Black-eyed Pea Hummus.

You'll need: 

1 can of Black-eyed peas (rinsed)
1 T minced garlic
5 T olive oil
Coarse salt & Fresh ground pepper
1 T fresh lemon juice

In a food processor, pulse peas, lemon juice and garlic. When it forms a paste-like consistency, add in olive oil while processing a bit more. Add salt (and pepper) to taste.

Enjoy with crusty bread, crackers, carrot sticks, and other nibbles.

3) Ring in the New Year, with Ring-Shaped Desserts!

Did you know that ring-shaped desserts are thought to symbolize wealth and prosperity? Incorporate some of your own favorite ring-shaped foods, like doughnuts, or mini-bundt cakes.

Knoxville has a new business called Nothing Bundt Cakes that has some incredible options! I picked up their December Flavor of the Month, Peppermint Chocolate and can't wait to enjoy it.

Some other New Year's traditions you might want to try:

  • Eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, one for each month of the past year. 
  • Incorporate lentils or other beans into your New Year's meal...these are supposed to symbolize coins, a.k.a. moolah or prosperity to come.
  • Greens like collards or chard may also bring good luck if eaten on New Year's Day
  • Pork, with its high fat content, may bring you luck. We grew up eating Hog's Jowl, but other cuts will also do. 
  • Toss a bucket of water out the front door of your house after the stroke of midnight, signifying "Out with the old, In with the new." 

December 17, 2015

Last Minute Holiday Gift Guide!

Christmas is a week away and I haven't done any shopping yet! Actually, that isn't exactly true. I've done a little. But no matter how early I begin each year, it pretty much always happens this way. I end up panicking and doing a mad dash to snatch up last minute gifts. 

If you do the same thing, I've got some ideas for you! I'm visiting with my friends on Fox43 to share some last minute gift options for all the various folks on your list! 

1) Last Minute Gifts for Teachers & Neighbors 

Growing up, my mom was a teacher. So holiday time meant her bringing home the mother lode of gifts and goodies. When shopping for someone like a teacher or neighbor, remember these magic words: Something edible. 

It's tough to buy gifts for folks you don't know very well. Sometimes teachers, neighbors, letter carriers, etc. fall into this category. It's always a pretty safe bet to go with something edible. It makes the gesture that you thought of them and it probably won't go to waste. My mom has never been much for baking. It's not her thing. So when the holidays rolled around, her students provided our family with awesome homemade sweets and treats that we wouldn't have had otherwise. 

If you can't make anything, just buy something small. My mantra for gift-giving applies here too...presentation is key. Don't just give someone a bag of M&Ms. Package them in a cute jar, maybe like these vintage-inspired green canning jars shown above. It's a great double duty gift because it gives them something to enjoy and a cool jar to use when the treat is gone. Trust me here. 

2) Last Minute Gifts for Co-Workers 

Once again, food never fails. So you spend lots of time with the people you work with. And you want to give them some sort of small token of your friendship. Start with a cute basket (the one shown is from Target, but I found identical options at Dollar General for half the price). Then fill it with a couple of great items your pals are sure to love. 
Check out this olive oil made in Georgia. It's a bit pricey, but it's small-batch, artisan, all that good stuff. And made right here in the south. Pair it with a loaf of bread (homemade or otherwise) and this makes a nice little gift. 

This also works for a hostess gift if you are attending a party. You can switch this up and include some fancy schmancy coffee beans instead, and a mini french press. The coffee I chose is from Knoxville-based Three Bears Coffee Company, but another new fave of mine is Broast, made right in my hometown of Cookeville. You can order it through the Broast Facebook page. 

3) Last Minute Gifts for Your Friends who Like to Entertain 

If you have friends who like to entertain, consider yourself lucky. These folks are the life of the party and never mind an impromptu get-together. 

Since they are gracious enough to host, treat them with ready-made gifts that will help save time and effort for their next party. Something like a cocktail gift basket might be an option. You can fill it with things like grenadine, simple syrup and other mixers. Maybe some olives or other garnishes. Even a few bottles of tonic water or club soda. Your friends will love it, feel appreciated, and keep inviting you to their rocking! 

These are just a few ideas for last minute holiday gifts! Hopefully you are ahead of the game. But if you waited, there are still a few days to shop. 

December 2, 2015

Simple & Creative Holiday Gift Wrapping Tricks

When it comes to entertaining, I always like to say that presentation matters. A simple, humble gesture or gift can mean a lot more when presented in a special way. This way of thinking definitely applies to wrapping gifts during the holidays.

Don't believe me? Then you've probably never been handed a gift wrapped in a wadded up plastic grocery bag. A gift is a gift, and anything given should always be received with gratitude. But the same small item can be received very differently depending on how it's presented.

It's really not about putting on a big show...but more about just making someone feel like you went that little extra mile to make them feel important.

Holiday gift wrapping doesn't have to be stressful and it doesn't have to break the bank. Plan ahead with these simple tips and make your Christmas gift wrapping a success!

1) Stick with a color scheme - 

When all your gifts are under the tree together, they will look much neater if they are all wrapped in similar paper. Even if the patterns are different, choosing a color scheme will give everything a polished look.

And that color scheme doesn't necessarily have to be red and green. In fact, I often stock up on various colors of wrapping paper when I find it on sale throughout the year. Any solid color and most basic prints can be jazzed up to work for the holidays. A basic white paper with silver polka dots (from the Birthday party section) looks very festive with royal blue or silver ribbon.

Going with a more modern vibe this year? Why not try hot pink paper with silver or gold trimmings. Some of my favorite color combinations right now are turquoise and emerald green, gold and cream, and red and bright pink. Or use any color combo you like.

2) Get creative with trimmings - 

Instead of ribbon, use old fashioned tinsel garland to tie a shiny bow. Or maybe some twine or rick-rack. Raffia is another great material and you can tie it around a gift or even make raffia pom poms.

The days of plopping on those peel 'n stick bagged bows are behind you.

Another way to trim your packages is with small trinkets or ornaments. I picked up a whole bunch of super cute ornaments at Dollar General to double as package trim. For a buck each, these can really take your presents from so-so to wow.

3) Recycle - 

Do you save old Christmas cards from year to year? After so long, these can pile up and collect dust. I decided to put mine to good use by recycling the prettiest ones as decorative elements to add to packages.

Something else to recycle and re-purpose for gift wrapping is the comics page from the newspaper. With a bright cheery ribbon, this colorful paper can make great wrapping.

A Few More Tips - 

When using sturdier boxes with lids, I always wrap the box and lid separately. This way, it's easier to open and the paper doesn't get torn. Photo boxes are my favorite and you can pick them up right now for cheap at most discount stores. I like these because you can re-use them over and over again.

Save containers all through the year if you have a place to store them. You never know when a mailer tube or a bubble wrap envelope will come in handy for that oddly shaped Christmas gift.

Use natural elements if you can. Cinnamon sticks, a bit of holly or magnolia leaves can make a nice addition to a gift, especially when wrapped in simple brown paper. Simple can look oh so chic.